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Your Intervention Must-Have: A Formative Maths Diagnostic Test

We believe that a maths diagnostic test should be a compulsory feature for every in-school KS2 mathematics intervention. Without such formative assessment at the beginning and end (at the very least) of the intervention, how do we know what to teach a pupil, and how will we know if we’ve been successful in this?

Diagnostic assessments are invaluable in identifying target pupils’ gaps and misconceptions to create a personalised support system such as our 1-to-1 KS2 Maths intervention.

For schools, the importance of diagnostic assessment for primary Maths is clear. Formative diagnostic assessment can help teachers differentiate to the learning needs of each pupil while highlighting any areas that the whole class may need more help with.

Not only can diagnostic assessment help KS1 & KS2 teachers maximise effective teacher time, they can also help address progress requirements (if your school has to provide them).

As the largest provider of 1-to-1 Maths interventions to primary schools in the UK we know that there is no such thing as a standard primary school pupil in Maths.

Why diagnostic assessment is key to our Maths intervention

The 1-to-1 element of our tutoring means every lesson must be tailored for each individual pupil. In fact keeping this ethos in focus is what enables us to establish stronger Mathematical fluency and ability in our pupils while boosting their confidence.

But improving confidence and making accelerated progress doesn’t just happen. It requires specific, targeted learning journeys for each and every pupil.

Further Reading

This is why our 1-to-1 intervention features diagnostic assessment; so we can pinpoint misconceptions, cement foundation knowledge, and use results to create a tailored learning journey for the pupil to work through with a tutor.

Number and Place Value Diagnostic Quiz - Year 5

Number and Place Value Diagnostic Quiz - Year 5

25 multiple choice questions on key topics from the place value of decimals, to the base ten system and negative numbers

What does outstanding diagnostic assessment look like? Our 5-point checklist

  • We suggest schools undertake a primary Maths diagnostic assessment roughly once a term. This means you can avoid repeated teaching throughout the year.
  • We believe good diagnostic assessments always optimise the ‘insight per question asked’ (you shouldn’t overdo it). Look to maximise the impact of answers, while minimising how many questions you ask.
  • Diagnostic assessment should only be used to orientate what you teach and how you teach it, it should not become overly time-consuming and should never eat into learning time. You can diagnose a pupil perfectly, but it is useless if it does not leave enough time to address any gaps that are found.
  • Diagnostic assessment shouldn’t take too long! We take about 25 minutes at the start of every term to run our initial diagnostic test and then have brief weekly assessments that last around 3-4 minutes.
  • Multiple choice questions can be hugely useful, as you can insert any key distractors or common misconceptions to “catch pupils out”. This can help provide more focused feedback, as you know exactly what misconception a pupil has for each topic and question. The answers to open-ended questions can be more difficult to categorise in this way.

See also: Hinge questions

How we use diagnostic assessment to track learning

Primarily, our diagnostic assessment consists of an initial test to establish baseline knowledge and individual gaps in the selected curriculum areas for each pupil. We also conduct a mini-assessment at the end of each 1-to-1 session, to indicate how much the pupil has progressed within that topic.

Finally, we do an end of term assessment that maps onto the initial diagnostic assessment. This demonstrates the overall progress gained by that pupil in each topic.

If you’re looking for a more personal idea of how this diagnostic assessment might work for you book a demo of our 1-to-1 maths tutoring and you can review the very granular information you get on the starting point and progress of each pupil taking part in the intervention. Or call 020 3771 0095

How diagnostic assessment improves attainment for KS2 pupils

By using diagnostic assessment in this way, we can ensure that all dedicated session time is used to target areas of weakness for our pupils, rather than teaching them what they already know.

Plus, diagnostic assessment enables us to quickly establish each pupil’s zone of proximal development (ZPD), ensuring we teach from the point at which they are beginning to struggle with the topic.

In short: diagnostic assessment can tell us exactly what each pupil already knows, so we can begin the learning from there.

Potential drawbacks of diagnostic assessment

When using multiple choice assessment it is always possible that a pupil may guess or (if rushed) tick any answer randomly.

Moreover, as with any test you should bear in mind that the quality of the output is representative of the quality of the input. That is to say; if a pupil takes the test while feeling stressed, or not paying attention, the value of any data gained may decrease significantly.

To combat inaccurate results, diagnostic assessment should be taken under conditions like these:

1. Take the test in a controlled environment
2. Adequately prepare all pupils for the test, do not spring it on them
3. Provide each pupil with plenty of time, rushed answers are not accurate answers

It’s worth saying that diagnostic assessment is a form of assessment. It comes with all the usual caveats of any Maths assessment; pupils may feel nervous, the results of pupils with weaker reading skills may not be fully representative, etc.

With all this in mind, diagnostic assessment is still hugely worthwhile and can offer a great deal for your school’s’ teaching and learning journey, especially when potential drawbacks are kept in mind when analysing results.

How to use the results of a diagnostic assessment

At Third Space, we use diagnostic assessment to generate a bespoke learning journey for every pupil, that ensures our 1-to-1 tutors focus entirely on the pupil’s misconceptions, not on generic issues that are ‘likely’ to be an issue. This detailed understanding of a pupil’s gaps or weaknesses can also be useful for the class teacher in their day to day work with the pupil.

Schools who use our tutors also use the results to identify misconceptions at a class level and even inform what they should teach to the whole class (those receiving the interventions, and those not). Teaching to plug individual gaps can then be allocated to teaching assistants, interventions (such as our Maths interventions), or other provisions.

Interventions without diagnostic assessment

As Maths intervention specialists we encounter a range of alternatives that schools are using to try to boost confidence and attainment, such as small TA-led Maths groups, online platforms like Mathletics, or even expensive 1-to-1 tutors brought into school.

Most of these interventions, even expensive 1-to-1 tutors (generally about £25 per lesson compared to Third Space Learning’s £16 per lesson), don’t have robust diagnostic tests built into the programme. This is because what they’re offering is a much more ‘one size fits all’ approach.

This can work for some pupils.

But for others it definitely won’t work as their needs are more specific. Regardless of which intervention you choose, if you don’t have oversight of what the pupil’s individual needs were at the start of the intervention you really won’t know whether the intervention has been effective. And with budgets and time being in such short supply, this is even more crucial than ever.

Successful use of diagnostic assessment can help you to regularly track where each pupil is performing, and where they need more work. When used correctly this can help tailor and differentiate teaching provision so that pupils get help where they need it most – ensuring that no pupil is left behind.

If you think Maths interventions would be right for our pupils, or want to conduct a quick intervention health check, read our blog ‘So You Think Your KS2 Pupils Need a Maths Intervention’. Or if you’re interested in finding out more about interventions in general, read our post on Primary School Interventions.

Subsidised one to one maths tutoring from the UK’s most affordable DfE-approved one to one tutoring provider.

James Clark
James Clark
Third Space Learning
Schools Team
Having taught for over 5 years, James works on our platform to help pupils continually improve their learning gains & manages our collaboration with London Knowledge Labs.
Number and Place Value Diagnostic Quiz - Year 5

Number and Place Value Diagnostic Quiz - Year 5

25 multiple choice questions on key topics from the place value of decimals, to the base ten system and negative numbers

Download Now

Number and Place Value Diagnostic Quiz - Year 5

Downloadable resource

25 multiple choice questions on key topics from the place value of decimals, to the base ten system and negative numbers

Download Now

FREE Guide to Hands on Manipulatives

Download our free guide to manipulatives that you can use in the maths classroom.

Includes 15 of the best concrete resources every KS1 and KS2 classroom should have.

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